Spending Christmas in Africa
Why Some Students Choose to Build Overseas
By Jessa Parette Eldridge '11
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
It’s a familiar sight after disasters: homes turned into piles of rubble, people milling through the wreckage and volunteers handing out blankets, water and food. After Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, JBU partnered with Samaritan’s Purse and sent a team of construction management students and professors to provide disaster relief. The air was hot and sticky as the construction management students from JBU began laying block walls for the orphanage’s new school.
“We poured concrete, bent all rebar by hand, laid block walls, visited orphanages and helped fix things around the Samaritan Purse compound,” said construction management student Andrew Boehm. “Our JBU team was able to see God work in many different ways and were able to grow closer to God through our experiences.”
This was not the first time JBU’s construction management department joined a larger organization to provide construction work. In the past few years, construction management professors and students traveled with JBU and other organizations to Sudan, Uganda, Niger, Jamaica, Haiti, Guatemala, Alaska, Kansas and Louisiana.
“Our partnership with Samaritan’s Purse began over 10 years ago,” construction management professor Jim Caldwell said. “We also have students who work with World Vision and Serving in Mission (SIM). It’s a great fit because these organizations’ primary objectives are disaster relief programs, food programs and shelter.”
The construction management degree has a high number of missionary kids, many of whom chose the major in order to return overseas. Part of Caldwell’s goal as a professor, however, is to show non-MK students the great need for construction work overseas.
So, when Tennessee native Kaleb Bledsoe ’13 expressed interest in using his construction management degree in missions, Caldwell invited him to go to Niger, West Africa over Christmas. WorldWide Fistula Fund needed workers over Christmas break, and Bledsoe was more than happy to volunteer.
“I didn’t mind spending Christmas away from home because the entire reason we have Christmas is to share the gospel and spread the word of Christ,” Bledsoe said. “On Christmas morning, kids came by the house, stood outside and clapped till we gave them candy. When we ran out of candy, we just made a bunch of popcorn.”
Although Jim Caldwell’s wife contracted malaria during the trip and supplies were hard to come by, Bledsoe says that the experience altered his view on missions, whetting his appetite for more. “The sheer need for repairmen and builders is overwhelming. After a day of working in the hospital, we would return to the mission compound and fix things there,” Bledsoe said.
Each year, cataclysmic events like earthquakes, tsunamis and storms bring destruction that can take years to rebuild. Though natural disasters happen often, man-made ones happen daily. A lack of basic human needs—food, water, and shelter—exist outside of natural disasters. Civil wars in Sudan left a gaping need for homes, orphanages and churches.
Poverty in the Caribbean is evidenced by the cardboard shanties that pave the roads cruise ships use for inland tours. Even before the disastrous quake, many Haitians still lacked basic sanitary facilities.
“For people to function, they need homes. For organizations to function, they need a base of operation,” said Caldwell. “My hope is get more students interested and show them how to use their gifts in ministry.”
The Rev. Franklin Graham, founder of Samaritan’s Purse, has visited JBU to encourage students to use their talents to further God’s kingdom. Whether volunteers are teachers, doctors, or students, disaster relief programs need individuals who can use their skills, whatever they may be, to make a difference.
“It’s not just construction management students. A lot of students apply what they already know and also learn new things on site,” said Caldwell. “Every trip like this means you are going to learn new techniques. You are also going to learn a lot about service, ministry, and how to help relief work both physically, emotionally and mentally.”
Each year brings abundant demand for capable, intelligent individuals who know how to or are willing to build, repair and serve.
The harvest is plenty; the need is great.
Jessa Parette Eldridge '11 is the managing editor for university communications